SSE Talks – Paradigm Argument against ESP – Paul Smith


What I call the “Paradigm Argument Against Psi” (or PAAP) is a favorite for those who wish to deny the reality of ESP or other psi phenomena, yet have no ready counter to the substantial body of well-attested evidence now available supporting the existence of these phenomena. I will not go into that evidence here. Rather, my current purposal is a philosophical and strategic one, in which I will argue that the Paradigm Argument is not merely flawed, but in fact gains no purchase whatsoever against evidence-based arguments in favor of ESP and other psi phenomena.

A fairly common formulation of the PAAP goes something like this: In order for a phenomenon to be accepted as real, it must be explainable as a part of an accepted explanatory framework.

The existence of a truly unexplainable phenomenon suggests that the paradigm within which explanations are made must be expanded or replaced. But without a clear account of the causal basis for said phenomenon – and hence an explanation that provides a sufficient alternative to the current explanatory framework – it is not reasonable to significantly alter or abandon the current paradigmatic scaffolding merely to allow us to accept an otherwise explanatorily recalcitrant phenomenon.

It is more reasonable instead to reject the recalcitrant phenomena than it is to reject or seriously revise a paradigm that seems to work for most other phenomena and features of the universe.

Psi phenomena are unexplained by the current paradigmatic explanatory framework of science. Therefore, we should reject psi phenomena and leave the paradigm as it is. Physicalism, the doctrine that everything in the universe is physical or the consequence of physical facts, is taken to represent the dominant paradigmatic context. To the degree that psi or ESP phenomena violate physicalist theory they must, by this argument, be rejected.

I argue that this entire anti-psi argument is ill-formed and mistaken. This is because what the argument takes to be an acceptable paradigmatic context – physicalism – is in fact rife with unsupportable metaphysical assumptions and is therefore itself unsuited as a sufficient explanator of what there is. Moreover, it provides inadequate grounds to reject psi and ESP phenomena as not real or relevant to science. I will argue in detail for my thesis, starting relevant arguments from both pro- and anti-psi theorists, but going beyond to pose a new argument that shows the inherent weakness in the physicalist position.

Major Paul H. Smith, US Army (ret.) was an origianl member of the army’s Stargate remote viewing program. He is founder of RVIS and president of the IRVA.

Recorded at the 29th annual SSE Conference in 2010 in Boulder, Colorado, USA.

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Published on May 5, 2011